One week into January and for the vast majority of people, the New Year’s resolutions they made with such good intentions have already bitten the dust.
Lack of will power is only part of the problem, your resolutions may be doomed from the start because the way they have been created is a set up for failure.
Whether or not you are in to the whole resolutions thing, new year always seems like a good time to set goals, so here are a few tips to help you come up with some you can actually achieve this year.
1) Getting down to business
Let’s start by taking a look at how you can apply some of the best practice from the professional world to your personal goals. In the business world, people often talk about setting SMART goals. This may sound familiar if you have ever worked at the kind of job where they do annual reviews.
The acronym SMART most commonly stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. But this is not the only definition. Others I have come across include “Significant, Meaningful, Agreed Upon and Rewarding and Tangible” and “Stretching, Motivating, Action-Oriented, Relevant and Trackable”. You can choose either or combine terms from all three to come up with the set that feels right for you. What you now have is a tool to test your goals. Every goal you set should be able to meet these criteria.
Specific and Measurable
Saying you want to get fit is way too vague. Make the goal very specific and measurable so that you know how long you have to meet it and can say, in an objectively observable way, how you will know you have met it. For example, if your goal is to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle, you could revise it by substituting one or all of these types of goals.
- By March 31st, I will lose four inches from my hips
- In six months time, I will be able to run 5k without stopping
- I will go to the gym at least once a week, at least three weeks each month.
Attainable and Realistic
One of the most common reasons that resolutions fail so early and so often is that people set unrealistic goals for themselves. Placing the bar too high is a sure-fire way to set your-self up for an early failure. By way of example, let’s say that your New Year’s resolution was to give up smoking and that you made it through January second without a cigarette. Woo Hoo! Then on January 3rd, life throws you one of its crappier curve-balls: You get some bad news or break up with your girlfriend and in a moment of weakness, you console yourself with a smoke or three.
“Aha!” Says your self-sabotaging inner critic seizing on the opportunity to kick you when you are down. “I knew you’d never be able to quit!” he sneers, “So much for your resolution. Well, at least that’s over and you can go back to smoking with confidence now.”
Game over, till next New Year’s Eve. But what if, on the other hand, your resolution had been less black and white. Say it was to reduce the number of cigarettes smoked by at least 50% in the first month. Looking at the very same experience, you would have reflected that you had gone cold-turkey for the first 48 hours, fallen off the wagon but been able to get back on again on the 4th, feeling pretty awesome that you had already exceeded your goal. See what a difference perspective and the way you set up your goals can make?
Timely, Tangible and Trackable
By breaking down the big goal into smaller more easily attainable baby-steps, you build in an early taste of success that will keep the motivation flowing. Make them as small as you need to, to be certain you can get yourself off to a winning start. If the idea of quitting smoking seems improbable to impossible, chunk it down. Can you go a week without smoking? Then start there. If you know a week is going to be a struggle, perhaps one day is a better first step.
2) Utilize positive thinking to overcome resistance
Another common failing with New Year’s Resolutions is that they fail to address the complex psychology involved. Our bad habits are rarely rational. Telling ourselves that smoking or over-eating is not good for us is not usually that helpful. Telling ourselves that we ought to get fit and exercise is not powerfully motivating. Throw out the resolutions that included any hint of Should or Ought or those that have a foundation in Shame, guilt or self-criticism. These are not smart ways to motivate yourself.
Think instead about how you want to feel once the goal is achieved. Focus on the positives of the desired outcome. For example, many brides are able to diet successfully for the first time prior to their wedding because they are focused on how they want to feel good about themselves on their wedding day. Spending all the Saturdays in Spring in your basement is probably not an appealing thought, but imagining the sense of satisfaction once you have got rid of all that clutter, gives you a powerful reason to start organizing. (And I have to tell you, I feel AWESOME about all the organizing, throwing away, donating and selling I have been doing for the last couple of months).
3) Take Baby-steps
Making and breaking Resolutions can be an emotional minefield. You can create a very useful map of what lies ahead if you pay attention to your emotions, particularly in terms of your resistance and what motivates you. What are the perceived and real risks and benefits of any change you are seeking to make? One of the common obstacles to both quitting smoking and losing weight is the powerful resistance that comes in the form of not wanting to experience a sense of deprivation. Imagining a life-time of having given up or going without something that may be pleasurable can trigger your inner teenager to throw a toddler worthy tantrum.
A nifty trick in this instance, is to renegotiate the action ahead to a level that is way less threatening to the part of you that doesn’t want to change. Back to the smoking example, when temptation arises or a craving hits, you can take some of the internal pressure off immediately by reframing the commitment as a choice. Instead of dealing with whatever comes up when you think about never smoking again – try telling yourself that you are choosing to get through the next fifteen minutes, five minutes or even 60 seconds without having a cigarette. And at the end of that period, you are going to choose again.
4) Understand what motivates you
Perhaps the biggest key to success is to figuring out what really motivates you. Perhaps it’s accountability, in which case, you might want to join a group or make your goals public on Facebook or amongst some other people that it would be painful to disappoint. Add some incentive to accountability and you have the “Biggest Loser”. I had been trying to lose ten pounds for the longest time but when my workplace put on a Biggest Loser competition and I found out the first prize was over $500, I became more motivated than ever before, lost 15 pounds, and have kept it off for three years. If you are more into carrots than sticks, what rewards can you promise yourself for goals you achieve? Perhaps it will be a vacation at the end of the year with money saved? Perhaps it’s a series of little gifts or treats? A mani-pedi each month that you have met the goals?
At the other end of things, you can use losing money as a motivator. Perhaps you will set up something like a Swear Jar and pop in $5 every time you curse. If you really want to raise the stakes, one of the most powerful motivators I have come across is to think of an organization, cause or political party that is most opposed to your views, the more dramatic the better. This reverse psychology has been researched and found extremely effective, so it might be worth a try if all else fails.
Think of something that would make you absolutely cringe to have your name associated with and then write out a check for a significant amount of money addressed to it or them. If you can’t come up with a cause, you might be able to think of a person, whom it would really pain you to pay out to. Once you have written the check you need to get it out of your hands and into safe-keeping with a trusted friend or colleague. You can even ask me to be that person for you. Just bear in mind it needs to be someone you can rely on to stand firm no matter how much you might try and persuade them you have changed your mind. Meet your goal and they tear up the check. Bail and into the mail it goes. If you like to do this type of thing more publicly, I just discovered that there is even a website that can do all this for you called Stickk.
Yes, you can
So remember, it doesn’t have to be January 1st for you to set a resolution. If you are still on track, I hope these tips will help you to keep up the good work.
If things haven’t gone as planned, take heart. Dust yourself off and and get back up on that horse by reviewing, renewing or redoing your resolutions, setting SMART goals instead and make this the year that counts. Keep me posted on your progress.
How about we do this in three dimensions some time? I am booking individual and couple sessions in April at this time and have some limited availability for Skype sessions in March. Also, today I updated the Workshops and Seminars page so please click on over to check out the Spring workshop schedule which includes the Freedom Peace & Power one-day life-makeover workshop for people who want to give their healing, growth and living at their full potential a super boost and the highly successful Vive La Différence weekend workshop for couples interested in more relationship goodness and joy than they will know what to do with.
Hope to see you soon, even if it’s on Skype.
Check out her post This is Why I’ll never be a grown up and be gentle on yourself today!
It’s Mardi Gras tomorrow, historically a day of indulgence to consume the remaining foods that will be given up for Lent which begins the next day.
This 40 day period which begins on Ash Wednesday and culminates in the celebration of Easter is prescribed as a time of penitence for believers marked by fasting and abstention from luxuries.
I remember as a child being deeply mystified by the seemingly mixed message that on the one hand, God loved me so much and yet on the other, he wanted me to give up chocolate.
For more decades than I care to admit, I retained a very childish attitude of rebellion towards the entire concept of self-discipline which engendered many an unproductive internal conflict in the pursuit of healthy goals.
In a society that venerates conspicuous consumption, commerce and instant gratification, self-denial is a hard sell. For many people, self-discipline and deprivation are synonymous. Ironically, considering this was an issue that began in the Church in England so many years ago, my issue with self-discipline only came to resolution relatively recently thanks to the wisdom and growth I have experienced on my yoga mat.
Part of the solution lay in a more conscious consideration of the multiple meanings of the word discipline:
Yoga reminded me that a spiritual practice is a discipline in the sense of these meanings:
- Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.
- Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control.
- A set of rules or methods, as those regulating the practice of a church or monastic order.
- A branch of knowledge or teaching.
I realized that part of me had been stuck in associating discipline exclusively with these meanings:
- Control obtained by enforcing compliance or order.
- A systematic method to obtain obedience: a military discipline.
- A state of order based on submission to rules and authority: a teacher who demanded discipline in the classroom
- Punishment intended to correct or train.
Slowly but surely, my previous knee-jerk reaction to reject additional commitments faded and I started to appreciate that self-discipline can be a positive choice rather than a deprivation. I noticed that it is at the times that there is most chaos and pressure in my life, I find deep peace and comfort in routines.
Making a commitment to do something good for me used to feel like yet another chore on my to do list, in an overly full schedule. Nowadays, I see it as an act of dedication and devotion to taking good care of myself.
Investigating the meanings that we have for things can be so incredibly beneficial. By stopping and taking the time to examine the beliefs we are walking around with, we create an opportunity to change and grow, to throw out old ways of thinking that no longer serve us and try on something new. Which brings me back to Lent.
Even if you are not a Christian, Lent provides an occasion to try on some new behaviors. It is always interesting to challenge the things you believe you are dependent on. For some people it makes sense to give something up, even to suffer a little in the process, as a way of stimulating a form of deep reflection.
But equally, you may decide that you might have more to gain, spiritually speaking, during this period by adding something positive instead of giving something up. A couple of years ago, I found myself considering how I could choose to give up something that would also benefit others during this period.
I felt that in some ways, even giving up something that I loved seemed like a rather self-indulgent practice and so I picked giving up complaining for Lent that year. The commitment I made was to monitor everything that came out of my mouth and forsake all negativity.
I thought it would be so easy, after all I considered myself a relatively kind and positive person. It sounded so simple and yet I SUCKED at it. When I started to pay some serious attention, I realized I complained without even being conscious of it way more than I could have imagined. It was easy to avoid saying something bad about somebody, but I had no idea how much I bitched and moaned about traffic and the weather.
Over the entire period, I think I barely made it through two consecutive days of complete compliance. This year it’s going to be my goal once again and I hope that, regardless of whether you follow this or another spiritual or religious tradition or not, you feel inspired to think creatively about how you might benefit from a 40 day commitment to your personal development by giving something up or doing something new or different.
I am not a pilot, brain-surgeon or rocket scientist. Nor am I planning the invasion of a small country, yet you could be forgiven for thinking so, judging by my ruthless obsession with increasing efficiency.
I am doing more things, more quickly than I even thought possible.
I am communicating with more people, faster and better than before.
I have de-cluttered and re-prioritized, systematized and categorized. I have mind maps and action plans, to do lists and tickler files, 43 folders and a 5 year plan.
Yet even as I am dizzied by my own super-human levels of productivity, I’ve started to feel that I am surviving more than thriving.
On the treadmill on Sunday as I dutifully clocked up my miles, I couldn’t help noticing that a large part of my life now closely resembles that of a plucky little hamster, sprinting gamely on its wheel.
Last week, I spent my Thursday afternoon at the bedside of a patient who was dying. I met this man in the last months of his life, when he was suffering from end stage Alzheimer’s disease.
He wasn’t the man he once was. Although he could no longer express himself, he communicated so much to me about who he was that truly inspired me.
When I would visit him in the nursing home at meal-times he didn’t recognize or remember me, yet without fail, as I sat down beside him he would pat my hand and say,
“Have you eaten?” and offer me the food from his own plate. When I would get up to leave, he would look with concern out the window, checking on the weather and to see if it was dark, telling me to be careful as I bid him goodbye.
On the last day we were alone together for several hours.
The stillness in the room descended like a heavy blanket of snow, pierced only by the sound of the oxygen machine and his breathing.
Time slowed down at last and I felt a shift in my perspective and perceptions about what had been so important and urgent before I sat down beside him.
I was holding his hand as he took his last breath and his heart beat its last.
Accompanying someone to the end of their life is an experience that never fails to humble you but something about this experience has really changed me.
On Sunday, I was invited to a gathering of his family and friends. The house was full of people, eating and laughing, celebrating a life well-lived.
Looking around, his daughter told me he would have loved this day. I sat down to look at a photo-album, eager to see glimpses of the man he had been.
As I turned the pages, looking at the photos of him playing with a grand-child or laughing at the helm of his boat in the Summer ocean, I saw confirmation of what I had felt intuitively; that this was a man who loved to spend time with his friends and family.
In this portrait of a life, I saw what was dear to him.
A man brimming with generosity, fun, kindness and love. A man who brightened the lives of all those around him.
A man who cared for, comforted and cherished those he loved.
I remembered that I knew what he had done for a living and yet what struck me most was this.
His glorious legacy was not what he had done but who he had been
I share this with you today to remind you to stop and smell the roses.
Tell those you love how you feel about them.
Be glad that you can.
Pause for a moment and imagine looking back on your life:
How will you view what seems so urgent and important today?
As the holidays draw to a close I wanted to reach out and send you off into the New Year with much love and warm wishes that 2012 will bring you all that you can dream of – and some things so good you couldn’t have even imagined them!
As far as resolutions are concerned, I’d like to suggest that you don’t make any. This New Year how about loving yourself for exactly where you are instead? Instead of focusing on what you want to change, make a list of what you have achieved this year. If your year sucked so badly that you are drawing a blank, try a list of what you survived instead.
Of course, I do still want you to grow this year and having goals is a great idea. As long as you don’t set yourself up with an over-ambitious list of resolutions and then crash and burn before the month of January is out.
Find and celebrate the good and brave in yourself and encourage those parts to keep up the good work.
Come up with a short list of baby steps that you can be confident in ace-ing. Enjoy the instant gratification and surf on over with confidence to create another little list.
Life is hard enough with beating yourself up and – if you stop and think about it – shame and guilt are a lousy method of self-motivation.
It’s not a bad thing to make your goals public so you have to be accountable, but why not choose a friend who can cheer you on as well.
If that’s all too tame and you want to up the stakes, think of a cause to which you are totally opposed and write out a check to them. Next, give the check to someone you trust and tell them that if you don’t follow through by an agreed upon time, you want them to mail the check.
I’d love you to keep me posted on your progress and if you would like me to be your personal cheerleader, I have a small number of coaching spots available – in person or by phone or Skype.
Finally, I’d like to invite you to join me and ask you to help me spread the word about my two upcoming workshops, “Vive La Differénce! The Weekend for Couples“ February 25th and 26th and something totally new, “Me Time for Mommies”, a four-week coaching program is for rookie and veteran moms alike that takes place on Thursday evenings in Mt Airy starting January 12th.
For more information call or email me and I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful year,
Have you ever noticed how at the beginning of a relationship, when you are falling in love, you just don’t eat as much? There seems to be an inverse ratio between the amount of sex had and the amount of food eaten. The marvel of it all is that you don’t even feel deprived, you simply don’t think about food as often.
Compare that to your eating habits whilst nursing a broken heart. Unless you are one of those rare people who just can’t eat when they are heart-broken, you have probably indulged in comfort eating on such occasions.
This came to my mind when I was remembering working with a client who had been struggling to get her weight down to an acceptable and healthy level. She used to have an enviably athletic yet feminine physique and at that time, felt very confident about herself and thoroughly enjoyed an active sex life. Fast forward a few years via marriage and motherhood, and she found herself in the common position of carrying more weight and having less sex.
More importantly, she didn’t feel sexy. This was something she very much wanted to change, yet time after time, she made a sincere and determined resolution to alter her eating habits only to find that in a matter of days, she fell off the wagon and compulsively consumed what I like to refer to as “consolation calories”.
What’s the pay off?
Clearly this was way more complicated than needing a new diet plan, since at that point in her life with her level of experience, she could probably have written one. Sound familiar? So if it wasn’t about needing to learn how to do it, we needed to investigate what was getting in the way of being able to put into practice what she knew.
Behind every act of self-sabotage is a hidden benefit that keeps you hooked in to the status quo. There is always a reason you resist desired change and that reason is to do with what you are getting out of leaving things as they are. In order to make any progress, you need to discover what pay-off you’re getting from not changing.
In order to start investigating your subconscious blocks and motivations behind your behavior, grab a pen and paper and start to write down the messages you give to yourself. Externalizing the beliefs that are hiding inside your head is the first step to being able to become conscious about why you are doing what you do, which is the prerequisite to being able to change.
What’s the risk?
Often, the thing that stops us from being able to get out of an unwanted situation is a subconscious fear about the unknown alternative that could result. Sometimes, as Marianne Williamson said, it’s a fear of just how powerful we might be if we gave up a limiting behavior that can keep us from moving forwards. If we actually did lose that ten pounds, quit the job we hate, start to exercise,- fill in the blank – things might have to change and change is scary.
Or it can be a protective mechanism based on a bad experience in the past, (the subconscious is always forgetting that now is not then). The message that “it’s better not let your creative side out again in case you get devastated by criticism” – may be based on the time your kindergarten teacher said you couldn’t draw.
In the case in question, we came up with a couple of factors that were causing her to eat excessive amounts of things she should avoid whilst really wanting to lose weight. Number one was the subconscious belief that losing weight would mean becoming attractive to men again which would invite intimacy which carries a risk of getting hurt emotionally. Rather than being a self-destructive urge, this impulse came from a misguided sense of self-protection.
The vicious cycle
But the heart of the matter came to light when, looking at where she used to be and where she is now, I felt compelled to ask “Is Food your new Sex?” What we discovered was that she was in the grip of a vicious cycle revolving around a rebellious reaction to a lack of pleasure in her life.
This big picture involved a cumulative effect of feeling overly burdened with responsibilities, dealing with a lot of stress, having a punishing schedule of doing too much at a relentless pace, always giving and having self-care at the bottom of her priorities. It’s really tough to feel sexy in survival mode, which is how she had been leading her life.
No wonder she saw the chocolate (but it could have been the cigarette) as the only fun she got and was determined to hold on to it for dear life. And so she reacted out of a sense of deprivation. She comfort ate to fill the void of pleasure, which in turn created the weight issue which made her feel cut off from her sexuality (which could have provide a healthy, non-fattening source of pleasure) and so feeling deprived, she used food as an outlet for her need to experience pleasure – which started the whole cycle once again.
A new approach
Rather than beating herself up, I encouraged her to recognize that there was a positive side to this revelation. She agreed to consider appreciating the fact that there was some part of her that longed for a better quality of life. In making peace with this aspect, she could understand why this part of herself would be so mad that there wasn’t enough joy and pleasure going around and would insist on hanging on to whatever she could cling to. That part of her needed reassurance that there would be some other, better, more healthy alternatives to choose from in order to begin to let go.
Once it was clear what the motivation was, it was easy to come up with a whole new approach to the issue, which involved a conscious campaign to reduce her stress and to create a lot more opportunities to experience pleasure in her life.
In the beginning it was even hard for her to come up with a list of what might constitute alternate sources of joy and pleasure in her life. So I gave her the assignment to investigate the matter. She scheduled a series of Saturday afternoon play-dates for herself, to explore, either alone or with friends what might please her.
Daily pleasure practice
The resulting list, ‘Making time to take a bath by candlelight, buying flowers, touching fabrics that pleased her, singing, dancing, working out’ – became the basis of a new daily pleasure practice. And it was from this change in lifestyle, that gradually she found herself able to make better eating choices without even having to try that hard.
So, next time you find yourself beating lamenting your unmet goals and beating yourself up unmercilessly, might I suggest that instead you try an alternate approach? Take the time to get to know your demons and you may discover that, in fact, all they really want to do is to help you. Once you figure this out, it’s a whole lot easier to thank them, let them know you will no longer be needing their services and either retire them or reassign them to another duty somewhere else in your life that will actually serve you.